The sounds that fill the autumn air on a Saturday afternoon in Riverhead — the clanging of the victory bell outside Pulaski Street School, the horns and drums of the marching band and the collective roar of the crowd at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field after a touchdown — have gone silent.
The failed budget vote for the Riverhead Central School District paved the way for those empty fields. In a normal year, the lack of any high school sports would have been particularly devastating as student-athletes watched from afar while students in neighboring districts enjoyed the spirit of competition.
But this is no normal year.
And just like Riverhead, every other field in Suffolk County remains empty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had high school sports on hold since last March and the earliest they may resume is now January, according to Section XI. Efforts by some members of the Board of Education and the public to save Riverhead’s high school sports, music and clubs are laudable, but it’s time to admit the reality.
It’s just not worth it, particularly for interscholastic athletics.
On Tuesday, the BOE voted to allocate nearly $4 million in unspent money into various reserve funds. None of that was directed toward sports, music or arts. The money will be used as a revenue source this year, BOE officials noted.
A fundraising effort started by parents has likewise gained little traction so far. A GoFundMe campaign created Aug. 25 had raised just under $3,000 as of Wednesday morning.
Given the uncertainty of what the interscholastic sports landscape will even look like at the start of 2021, it makes sense that people are hesitant to dish out money at a time when so many are facing financial hardships.
Perhaps there’s a way to find some middle ground without having to spend thousands of dollars. The district should consider starting an intramural program, similar to what the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District will begin later this month, with flag football, cross country, tennis and soccer.
It’s an informal way to get kids from the district together to play sports, get some needed exercise and have some fun without the expense of traveling to other schools, uniforms and coaches’ salaries. There should be enough staff members in the district willing to volunteer a couple of hours after school to supervise. Minimal equipment is needed beyond what the district already has for physical education classes.
Students could be eligible to play on days they’re scheduled to attend classes in person. Teams could be co-ed and open to students beyond those who would typically make up the school’s varsity roster.
It could be a chance to get kids outside in a fun atmosphere — and it can be done safely.
Obstacles may admittedly be too great to get an intramural program off the ground if no other after-school activities are permitted. Perhaps it’s a slippery slope.
But with interscholastic sports going dark until at least 2021, it’s a compromise the district and Board of Education should at least consider while the weather remains tolerable. Because there’s no saving interscholastic sports this year.